Tonight at dinner I was trying to explain to my 20-year-old sister-in-law why Michael Jackson was, once upon a time, the coolest man on the planet. Having grown up with freaky Jackoâ€”the Pez-dispenser nosed white man with a pet monkey and a dangling babyâ€”it was sorta impossible for her to fully understand.
Then I realized the one thing I could show her. In 1983, Jackson performed live on a televised special called The Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. I was 11 at the time, and I still remember sitting in front of my TV, absolutely mesmerized. Sure, he was lip synching. But the dancing … insane. I mean, unlike anything I had ever seen. Watch the below clip from that event. But, if your time is short, just jump to 3:40. And keep in mind, nobody had ever Moonwalked before …
I loved Michael Jackson. Loved him. Not his later craziness, obviously, but his music and dancing. In my post-Beatles existence, there have been tons of icons (Madonna, U2, Men Without Hats), but Jackson was in a completely different stratosphere. First off, he could sing like a motherfucker. I mean, the guy could really, really belt. Just take a listen to Smooth Criminalâ€”an excellent song, sure, but one he singlehandedly blows the top off of. Jackson’s voice was always unappreciated, because a) it was hard to classify; b) there were so many real-world distractions. But who was more recognizable with a single note? Answer: Nobody.
I’m quite certain 70 percent of Americans will remember Jackson first and foremost as a circus freak, which depresses me to no end. If anything, he should go down as the greatest cautionary tale for every parent who insists on turning his kid into the next Usher; the next LeBron; the next Brad Pitt. I always found it telling that Jackson was robbed of his childhood; that he never had a chance to be a normal boy running around the block throwing a baseball or eating Ho-Hos or mackin’ on girls. He was a part of the celebrity whirlwind beginning at age 11â€”and the end product was a weird, guarded, sad man with a hollow existence and, apparently, few friends.
But, alas, such is life. Come today, I choose to remember Michael Jackson as the 25-year-old man moonwalking across the stage, greatness shadowing each move